Monday, August 24, 2015

On Environmental Education at the End of the World

As I am writing this, my state is on fire. Massive wildfires are sweeping across the eastern half of Washington, always the drier side, but in this year of unprecedented drought and heat, even moreso.  I cannot fathom what it is like to be there, to witness these enormous storms of flame racing over the landscape, to be a firefighter trying to do anything to make a difference in the face of this literal inferno.

Even here on the "wet" west side, which is of course dangerously dry this year too (and there are fires on this side, though not nearly as large), we are impacted by these enormous fires.  The prevailing winds sweep most of the smoke eastward, but our sunrises and sunsets are lurid red and the horizon is heavy with haze from westward-leaking smoke. As my boat heads out each morning, the skies are grim with smoke the further north we go.  I haven't seen Mt. Baker in a week at least.

Last week, on a day off, I went to a local zoo with my daughters and some extended family.  We decided to watch a stage show at the zoo, which was clearly a very sophisticated presentation with a customized stage, great special effects, really entertaining animals and a good overall message emphasizing that it is good to go outside, suggesting geocaching as a fun thing to do while you're there, and that getting involved with Citizen Science efforts was a worthwhile thing, too. But. The show began with a little vignette in which Our Hero was trying to figure out why frogs weren't eating all the mosquitoes this year.  After a brief search, Our Hero discovered that the frogs in the pond were "covered with trash" so they couldn't catch the mosquitoes.  And that is where my faith in humanity faltered a bit, and the dedicated environmental educator in me wanted to weep.

Now, I can't say of a certainty that the massive wildfires in Washington (and other parts of the west) right now are a result of Global Climate Change, but it's a pretty good bet that the drought that is exacerbating them is part of it. It is certainly possible that a massive drought all up and down the west coast of North America, that has been going on for years in some areas, is just a coincidence, a part of the normal cycle that is bigger and deeper than we understand with our limited data (weather and climate have, after all, been doing their thing far longer than we have been keeping track of it, and when one considers that it takes 20,900 years for all the possibilities of astronomical influence on the tides to play out, it is worth considering that we really don't know that much about the overall cycles of climate with the limited records we have available to us).  But I kind of doubt it.

I confess that I have kept my head in the sand about issues of Global Climate Change, figuring selfishly that I would not live to see the worst of it. I wanted to save myself from the profound grief of watching the ecosystem that I love with every cell in my body dying a slow, painful death. Turns out it might be a faster death than anyone anticipated, as the very salmon in our rivers are dying from water that is too warm, which of course will have dire consequences for the SRKW. The impacts of climate change are happening swiftly and mercilessly, and I am left with only my faith to believe in any possibility that those species I count among my non-human family and friends will adapt as swiftly as they need to in order to carry on.

In the face of this, frogs covered with trash seems to me to be the most trite, useless example of an environmental problem that could possibly be given.  Especially since frogs are creatures that actually move, so generally speaking even frogs living in a garbage-laden environment will be getting out from under the garbage. When I coordinated a kids' environmental club some 20 years ago, the "cost" of membership was declaring something that the new member would do to help keep Puget Sound clean. The overwhelming majority of kids said "pick up trash." Even then I felt a little despair, reading these responses, because it is such a superficial, cosmetic issue.

Trash is unsightly.  Trash can injure wildlife, and does so, although this is not so common or critical a threat for most species as one might imagine (if ten salmon are swimming in a river too warm to have enough dissolved oxygen to sustain them, and one gets caught in a 6-pack ring, they will still all die). Trash is really easy to pick up and put in the garbage or recycling. We can feel like we have control over trash, so it is an easy target and low-hanging fruit for an introduction to environmental responsibility and activism. And when you are speaking to a general audience, you need to consider the lowest common denominator, and start with that low-hanging fruit.

What makes me want to weep over this example is that we are, very literally, facing the end of the world as we know it. I am not so doom-and-gloom to imagine that the human race is going extinct or anything like that, but massive change is happening and will continue to happen, that will almost certainly have an enormous impact on some very basic things about our lives--like where our food and water come from, and what plants and animals will remain to share the world with us. Unless every single one of us, starting today, goes out and starts planting hundreds of trees (and realistically, most of those seedlings would die here right now for lack of water, unless we were also allocating water resources our region may not possess to keep them well watered), climate change is going to keep careening headlong toward whatever the new normal will be. As someone who loves the ecosystem I grew up in and finds ambient temperatures over 75F to be miserably uncomfortable, I am not really excited about what that new normal will be.

And faced with these rapidly occurring uncomfortable changes, I question whether or not we can ethically limit ourselves to discussion of "safe" environmental activism with general audiences. Sure, keeping it simple like that is comfortable and doesn't cause anyone anxiety or concern. But we MUST be made uncomfortable, anxious and concerned in order to get to the point of changing our behaviors if we want to continue to live on a planet that has things like comfortable temperatures, green forests, coffee, chocolate, seafood, and the ability to continue making irresponsible choices about having too many children in the name of religion.  Failure to recognize that and act on it, and we'll all be eating soylent green and applying to government agencies for the privilege to breed in a world where you wouldn't want to be a kid anyway.

Generally, I subscribe to the "no catastrophes before 4th grade" rule in environmental education.  Why raise your kids to be sad and anxious about issues they have so very little influence over?  It has, rightly I think, been suggested that children raised from the cradle with awareness of larger environmental issues will disengage out of a need for emotional safety and therefore not become the problem solvers of the future that we need. As a child of the Cold War, I understand; many of my peers believed very seriously they would never see adulthood and made choices in their adolescence that had some pretty serious impacts for their adult lives. Global Climate Change and the dire predictions of what might happen could certainly create the same kind of fatalistic zeitgeist among my daughters' generations.  But in the recent conversations about race issues in the U.S., I heard someone mention that white children are often sheltered from the idea of racism while children of color must be raised with knowledge of racist realities for their own self preservation. White privilege begins at home, because who wants to teach their kids how awful people can be to each other?  Every parent wants their children to grow with hope and a positive outlook on life, and what better way to destroy that than by holding forth the evidence of how untrue it is?  Yet some parents have no choice but to present their young children with this information for the sake of their survival.

I submit that, in the same way white parents must start teaching their young children about racism (beyond the scope of this post, but for now I'll just say that until social justice is achieved, environmental recovery will be impossible, and if it makes you angry or upset to consider that possibility I beseech you to examine the source of those feelings), we must also start teaching all of our children about the ecological realities we are living in, because our children's survival depends on it. We can no longer soft-pedal reality, of race or environment, and expect any positive long-term outcome in either realm.

This post is a lot darker than what I like to put out into the aether, but I've been feeling it strongly. If you've read through this far, thank you for sticking with me.  I recommend you go outside now and find a little patch of space to share with some nonhuman beings for a while. We humans are very resilient creatures, and we can survive through a lot. I still believe it is possible for us to reverse (to some degree) and restore things in a way that most of us (human and nonhuman) can survive, even thrive, and carry on. But in order for that to happen, all of us need to allow ourselves to be educated to an uncomfortable level, and change our behaviors as we see fit to do so, unless we want to wait for forces beyond our control to force those changes.  It's already city has voluntary water restrictions in place, but may have to impose mandatory ones if enough people don't respond to the voluntary request.  A small example in a huge bigger picture. Take the initiative, and take action. If you have to start with picking up trash, because it is quick and available and actionable, go ahead.  But promise me you'll make that the first step to doing much more.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Love and Uncertainty

I lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage.

Finally, after being so careful for so long, waiting for the "right time" to start a family, I was pregnant, and completely thrilled.  I was young and healthy, no family history of reproductive problems, and had no reason to expect that, ten weeks in, I would receive the devastating news that I was not, after all, going to have a new baby in my arms in a few short months.

I found a great deal of solace and support on an internet forum for other women who had experienced pregnancy loss.  Some had faced multiple losses, and every time a new pregnancy was announced there was a collective holding of breath through the first trimester to see if this one would be "sticky."

There was a conversation on that forum about dealing with the uncertainty of another pregnancy that may or may not result in a living baby.  Some women felt like it was easier to try to remain emotionally unattached to the potential baby until they had passed the point in the pregnancy of their previous losses, and then it would be "safe" to start investing in the idea.  But one woman said she loved her babies from the moment she knew she was pregnant, because she knew that she might not see them born, and wanted to love them as much as she could for long as she could while they were alive.

I was reminded of that conversation earlier this week.

One of the passengers on my whale watching boat asked the question, will the drought have any implications for the whales? And the honest answer is, yes, it absolutely will. Baby salmon need a lot of dissolved oxygen in the water for their tiny, inefficient gills to function.  Cold water holds more dissolved oxygen than warm water does. Normally, the heavy snow pack in the mountains around the Salish Sea melts slowly over the summer and keeps the salmon-bearing waters nice and cold.  This past winter, the snow didn't happen, and now the water temperatures in the rivers are higher than ever recorded, and fish are dying in that water because it is too warm for them.  What this means is that the rate of "escapement" for baby salmon this year will probably be very low, which means that, in another five years or so when this generation of Chinook returns to the rivers, the return rate will be very low.  And that means the SRKW will have a hard time finding enough to eat here.

One of the difficulties in managing the salmon population (leaving aside for the moment the supreme arrogance of the assumption that humans actually do know enough to "manage" any natural system appropriately) is that every single salmon-bearing stream has its own genetically distinct population of salmon, and every stream is uniquely vulnerable to circumstances that can have a huge impact on the escapement and eventual return of each generation born in its waters.  Maybe conditions are perfect for high escapement on a given stream in a given year, but a landslide blocks salmon passage on a given year, or heavy rains carry too many toxic substances to the stream from surrounding streets and the salmon of that generation die off or have their reproductive capabilities destroyed.

When something like that happens to an isolated stream or river system, the others can sometimes make up for it. A couple years ago, the Fraser River Chinook return was dismally low, so the SRKW took themselves out to the Washington coast, where Chinook runs were at record highs. It was a tough year for the whale watching boats, but the whales themselves did very well--all the SRKW babies born last winter were conceived that summer amid an abundance of food.  But if climate conditions mean that all of the rivers are experiencing low salmon escapement in a given year, when that generation of salmon is supposed to return, it will be a very low return all around.  And that low return will likely continue in a cycle into the future, until and unless conditions improve significantly, and maybe even with a little nudge from humans to help. This, of course, assumes that conditions to sustain salmon continue to exist at all here in the Salish Sea, which is a real question as climate change accelerates.

At the moment, Washington State and British Columbia are only in the first year of drought.  And hopefully (a wholly inadequate word to express my feelings on the matter) it will only be one isolated year of drought.  But looking south to California, where the drought has been dragging on for years now, it can't be assumed that we aren't heading down the same long, dry road. The SRKW rely on salmon from rivers along the west coast, from about Monterey Bay in California to the Fraser in British Columbia. That's it. That's what they've got.  A long term drought along the west coast could very literally be a death sentence for this population.  Each of the matrilines I know and love could starve to death in the next 5-10 years, easily.  The fish they rely upon are already endangered, with little public will to change behaviors as necessary to restore their populations. And, while I try to stick my fingers in my ears and ignore the evidence, there is more than a little reason to believe that at this point, all the public will in the world won't make a difference if the climate is moving beyond the point of being able to sustain Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea.

Now, the SRKW are remarkably intelligent animals. I believe they are aware of their plight, to some degree, and that they are intelligent enough to try to address it in some ways. Changing their diet is an obvious one; if they didn't insist on eating Chinook salmon nearly to the exclusion of anything else, they could do just fine. And we know they do eat other kinds of fish, although not nearly so regularly. In the past week or so I have seen some reports about some members of Kpod harassing a porpoise, and there have been past reports suggesting that some of the SRKWs may occasionally indulge in some marine mammal hunting, if not eating. There are other food sources available, should the whales choose to use them. But, intelligence and wisdom aren't the same thing. There are plenty of examples in human culture of groups of people doing things that are maladaptive, because that's the tradition. And maybe the whales are bound up in the same kind of thinking.  There is no way to know, we can only observe and see what they do with the situation as it develops.

But every day I spend with my beloved SRKW, in the back of my mind I know that I may outlive them, that there is a very real possibility they will be nothing but stories to my grandchildren, should I be lucky enough to have any. Perhaps one day I will hold one of my daughter's daughters on my knee and tell her about the day J42 Echo waved at the boat, the day L77 Matia brought her tiny baby L119 Joy right up to the bow, and Joy did a headstand and flipped her flukes at the adoring passengers. I will try to explain what it was like to see all of Jpod surfacing together in Rosario Strait against the backdrop of snow-covered Mount Baker in mirror-smooth waters. I will try to describe how thrilled I always feel when I first spot the tall fins from a distance.  As I write this, I hope and even pray with every fiber of my being that those stories will just be the precursor to taking my grandchildren out to meet the grandchildren of Echo, Joy and the others. 

What do you do with your heart when you learn a loved one has been diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness?  How do you guard your emotions when you are newly pregnant for the second, third or sixth time but you have no living children yet to show for it? How do you care for a species that so captivates your heart, soul and imagination when there are only 81 left and their food source is dwindling?  Not questions anyone wants to answer, but questions we are faced with.  Maybe it is easier to disengage, close the emotional connection, and lessen the potential pain.

My choice is to love them as much as I can for as long as I can, while they are still alive.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Arbitrary Categories

We humans are really good at categorizing things.  Pattern recognition is, after all, a survival skill:  these plants are edible, these will kill you if you eat them; this animal is good to eat, this one will steal your food, this one thinks you are good to eat, etc. These things can be somewhat arbitrary, though, since different human cultures disagree on which animals are good to eat vs. which animals are good to keep as pets or working animals.  Maybe the killer whales do, too.  After all, to a large carnivorous cetacean, a harbor seal pup and a mature Chinook salmon are about the same level of filling, but a resident will pass by the first to eat the second and a transient, vice versa.

I find it a curious thing, how humans categorize things and then just assume that categorization has some inherent truth to it, when most often those categories are totally based on a particular experience or perception that may have no bearing in greater reality.  Critters on the beach at low tide are a good example. If you study intertidal marine invertebrates, you will learn about tidal zones and the different animals who live in different zones. It's presented as a kind of gospel truth:  you will never find sea stars above the lower intertidal, there are just some animals who don't ever occur up high on the beach because they would dry out and die in the hot sun.

Once upon a time I was asked to do a beach walk for a group of girl scouts who had been doing a unit on oceans.  It happened to be late November, and the time of their regular meeting was not really a great one for having a low-tide beach walk, but we worked with what we had and explored a narrow strip of rocky shoreline just at sunset.   It was cold, but at least mostly dry that day, and the season was a typically wet one.  I was a little disappointed that, given how low the tide was, we were only going to see a few things--the things I had been taught to find in the upper intertidal, because you only found certain animals there...right?  Imagine my surprise when we discovered green sea urchins and shaggy sea mice waaaaaaay up high on the beach where they "didn't belong." I couldn't understand it, not a single reference I could find could explain this anomaly.

And then I realized: all the research that had been done to categorize the intertidal animals of the Salish Sea had been done during extreme low tides, during the day. As it happens, those daytime low tides here happen near Summer Solstice and into the summer, and our usual summer drought climate means all those tender squishy critters need to stay low on the beach or risk becoming anemone-leather before the next high tide. But in late November, when the days are much shorter, cooler, and wetter, hanging out near the high tide line is not nearly so risky.  It makes good sense, biologically, to mix up your territory, because if you're too predictable, you make easier prey.

Still, it seems this kind of categorization is something humans can't do without. We need categories, hierarchies, levels of affiliation and allegiance.  "Favorites." I am forever perplexed by the idea that each individual needs to have a single, favorite something...color, food, sport, whatever.  Whenever I am posed with a security question for an online account, I need to choose very carefully the question that doesn't require me to declare a "favorite" something, because my favorite now might not be my favorite in a month or a year or even an hour. Consistency, as they say, is the hobgoblin of a small mind.

This is true on online quizzes as well, although it is something of a frivolous example.  Often a quiz will show a number of pictures and ask you where you would prefer to live. If there's a picture of water and a picture of forest, or a picture of a waterfall and a picture of the do I choose?? I live where all of these things are beautiful together in ways they can't be alone.

So it is gratifying to me to observe one of my favorite summer phenomena in the San Juans: the salt water dragonflies. They do not, of course, breed in salt water, because they are fresh water insects.  But often at the dock, and sometimes even out in the middle of the straits, I will see a big, beautiful, blue darner dragonfly flying past. I first encountered these creatures at alpine lakes in the Oregon Cascades, and remember vividly an afternoon I sat very still letting one hatch out of its larval form on my knee, unfurl its gossamer wings, and eventually fly free. They are one of many species of dragonflies here in the Pacific Northwest, and among the largest. Their abdomens are like chips of cloudless sky, so vividly blue. (This will sound ironic, but they are among my favorite creatures...yes, I have several, but I can never choose one above the others, even though it might seem like I could given the primary subject of this blog.) To see these creatures that you will never find in any field guide to a saltwater shoreline flitting about over the open water reminds me that, whatever categories our human minds place on the world, the world will keep on doing what it likes. The dragonflies love to fly over saltwater here, and to me it's a marriage of the marine and upland environments that I recognize in my soul as well.

This blue darner flew into the cabin on my whale watching boat near Smith Island, miles from any freshwater source. It circled the cabin and landed, apparently exhausted, on a window sill. I kept it safe for the rest of the cruise and let it go at home, where I knew it would find plenty of companions.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Busy, busy...lots of time on the boat and various other obligations are keeping me from writing a proper post just now.  But two quick things:

1) IT'S RAINING.  This is wonderful.  The temperatures are cooler and there has been rain off and on for the past couple of days.  It doesn't break the drought, but it sure feels and smells fantastic.

2) A happy story from further north, of a young transient killer whale who found herself stranded but, with a little help from some humans, rode out the low tide and swam free again. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Drama in the deep?

No sooner do I post about Onyx and Granny when there seems to be something up between them.  Apparently J2 Granny is spending more of her time now with the J19 family group, composed of J19 Shachi, J41 Eclipse, and new grandbaby J51 (not yet given a nickname). Whale watchers out yesterday reported Onyx traveling along and making some pretty loud, piteous calls on the San Juan Island hydrophones last night.  Onyx was spotted with a K pod family group today.  This is all very curious and I am wishing, not for the first or last time, there was some way to know what was going on with the SRKW socially, some way to understand it aside from the human assumptions that are all we have with which to interpret their behaviors.

L87 Onyx was born into L pod, but lost his mother as a subadult.  He hung around with K pod for a while, before J8 Spieden seemed to adopt him when he was a young adult.  Spieden, who often traveled with Granny and Ruffles, died in 2013, and it was at that point that Onyx and Granny seemed to become close companions. 

Recent research has shown that adult male orcas who lose their mothers are significantly more likely to die themselves in the subsequent year, although don't know why that is. This research points to a compelling mother-son relationship, which seemed in Onyx, Spieden and Granny's case to be so important as to generate a foster-son relationship between the younger male and the matriarchs.  But at the end of the day, we've only been researching this species, and specifically this population, for about 40 years now, so to claim that we "know" anything about animals whose interactions we can only observe for the fraction of their lifetimes they spend at the surface of the Salish Sea is pretty presumptuous.

In any case, I'll be watching what happens with Onyx closely.  He is a favorite of mine (really, which of them aren't?  But he is one I can identify easily at a distance, so I am more aware of time spent with him), and I hope everything works out in his favor.  Hopefully I will be fortunate enough to see him tomorrow, when I'm out on the whale boat for the day.

Friday, July 17, 2015

On Names for Living Things

Names are curious things. What we call another living thing says as much about as, or more, than it does about them. Think of what we call each other, the endearments and the epithets, inspired by our own perceptions and feelings toward another and not necessarily about any inherent truth. In the Western world, most often our parents choose our names for us before we are born, based on the memories of past relatives or their hopes for the person we will be, without knowing anything about our personalities.

There are some who find the name "Killer Whale" problematic. How can assign the name "Killer" to  these animals, who demonstrate such strong family bonds, emotions, and intelligence?  Who can be so like us, gentle and curious, expressive and loving?  A passenger once said to me, "Killer?  But they're so beautiful!" as if beauty and killing are somehow opposite.

If you've ever seen the Transient Killer Whales hunt, you know where the name "killer" comes from.  They are vicious, calculating, cunning hunters. They are merciless toward their prey, seeming to employ psychological warfare as much as their powerful jaws in the hunt. I have seen a transient killer whale drape the entrails of a seal over her rostrum like a trophy. I have seen porpoises hurled through the air, frantically flailing their tails in an effort to escape the killers. There is no question why this is one of their common English names.

Many prefer to refer to these animals as "orcas," derived from their Latin name, Orcinus orca. However, the Latin translates roughly as "demon from hell," which isn't really much better than "killer" in my estimation.

Locally, "blackfish" was the term I was raised with.  My grandfather, a commercial fisherman, railed against the blackfish who competed with him for salmon. When my mother saw them swim past our house one morning, when I was in my earliest throes of whale obsession, she burst into the house calling, "the blackfish are out!" It is the name preferred by my Snohomish Lushootseed language teacher (the Lushootseed word for this animal is impossible to print in an English alphabet, and nearly impossible for a native speaker of English to pronounce).  When I made the mistake of using the word "orca" in class, he informed us that he refused to use the word because it "was from a dead language meant to confuse people," and that statement has been the source of much reflection for me about how we use language to relate to other living things.  Of course, "blackfish" is also the name of that famous movie about Tillikum and Dawn Brancheau.  Because I still occasionally run across a passenger who doesn't know that killer whales are mammals, though, I don't use "blackfish."

And then there is the matter of which population of killer whales we're talking about.  The SRKW are usually referred to locally as "residents," more recently "rezzies," (not a term I use). That is the term that distinguishes them from the "transients," with a much more offensive shorthand term. But then some people were upset that "transient" had a negative connotation, and decided to call them "Bigg's" killer whales. We might just as easily have started calling them Salmon Eaters and Mammal Eaters, but that wasn't how it happened.

As I mentioned in my last post, I dislike naming one animal after another, which is why I still refer to the mammal eating killer whales as Transients. I also prefer to call Dall's porpoises by their alternate name, "spray porpoise," which I feel is more descriptive of their behavior anyway. Of course if I refer to them that way nobody knows what I'm talking about, because Dall's porpoise is the accepted English common name...not so, yet, with the "Bigg's Whale."

It is my impression that naming one animal after another (human) animal reinforces a perception of humans owning animals, being somehow removed from the animal experience and superior to it. Any student of animal behavior can tell you how different from animals we are not, the desire to anthropomorphize aside.

After all, if I told you I was thinking of a beautiful living creature that lived all over the world, had different diets, customs and languages among its different populations, but had in common strong family ties and emotional bonds as well as intelligence and curiosity, and the ability and propensity to be a vicious killer...would you know if I was talking about a human, or a killer whale?

Thursday, July 16, 2015


It has been a long time!

When it was confirmed that J1 Ruffles had died, I lost heart for posting. The whales seemed to lose heart too.  Fewer breaches, less excitement. And very few babies, a big concern for the fragile Southern Resident population.

Two years ago, the Fraser River Chinook salmon run was dismally low.  We hardly saw the SRKW at all.  Transient Killer Whales* came in to the Salish Sea and gave my whale watch boat something to see, but I missed my friends.  Happily, they were gorging on record Chinook runs on coastal rivers, far beyond the range of my boat. 

Beginning last fall, we started to see the fruits of those record runs, when a new Lpod baby was spotted in late summer.  But sadly, that baby didn't survive.  Another huge blow came last December when J32 Rhapsody was found dead on a Vancouver Island beach, pregnant with a full-term female calf, her first.

And then J16 Slick, 42 years old, surprised us all with a brand new calf first spotted on New Year's Eve. Two more calves were born to Jpod--including Slick's own first grandcalf--and another newborn was seen with Lpod.  Four new babies!  And so far, all are doing well.  I am so grateful.

This summer has provided me a lot of time with my friends, watching the new babies play, seeing Ruffles' grandson, Ripple, growing into a healthy subadult, and Ruffles' son Blackberry growing his adult fin that looks more and more like his father's each time I see him.  L87 Onyx has been given the coveted spot of J2 Granny's foster-son, and it makes me glad to know that the orphaned Onyx and Granny have each other.

The whale boat delivers curious gifts sometimes. A couple weeks ago, I met a pair of women on the boat who were just finishing a week at a writers' retreat on Whidbey Island I have sometimes considered applying to.  They encouraged me and extolled the wonders of the retreat location, and were captivated by the whales and what I could tell them about their social structure.  We spent most of the southbound cruise in deep conversation, speculating about the whales' ways of being.  I felt really energized by the encounter.  In what I am sure is a related development, in recent days my muse has been pestering me to write for a wider audience than just myself, so I'm reactivating this blog to that end.  We'll see what the muse has in mind for me next.

*There are those in the research community who insist upon calling these whales Bigg's Killer Whales, or even Bigg's Whales, after Dr. Michael Bigg, who is considered the "father of whale research" in these parts.  (J26 Mike is named in his honor, too.)  My personal feeling is that we shouldn't call animals after people, who are, after all, animals too. More on this later.